What Church Educators Can Learn from Infomercials

By Israel Galindo, Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning

I’m a fan of late night infomercials. Given I am a bit of an insomniac that shouldn’t be a surprise. I got hooked when I saw the first  Pocket Fisherman  infomercial by Ronco, an early (and still popular) product from informercial pioneer and mainstay Ron Popeil. Since then Ron Popeil and company have shaped the infomercial phenomenon with a steady stream of products. Using a successful format for pitching products, which included the teaser, “But wait! There’s more!” Popeil has sold his inventions, from the  Veg-O-Matic, Mr. Microphone, the Inside-the-Shell Egg Scrambler to the wildly successful Ronco Rotisserie Oven—that last due in no small part to Ron Popeil’s memorable pitch, “Set it and forget it!”

When it comes to church education programming, most pastors seem to use the Ron Popeil approach to Christian Education, namely, the “Set it and forget it” approach. They’re happy with the fact that no matter what you do (or don’t do much of), people will just show up to Sunday School and classes. Other than recruiting willing teachers (or warm bodies), equipping a room with suitable furniture, making an attendance roster, and buying curricular resource material, what else is there to Christian education in the church?

I want to tell those pastors, to quote Ron Popeil, “But wait! there’s more!”

Any educational enterprise, in whatever context, must give attention to rigorous application of educational process if it is to be effective. Mere attendance, whether in Sunday School or a college classroom, does not in itself guarantee learning. Learning is a process which, in order to be effective, must be undergirded by sound educational processes. To be a legitimate educational enterprise, a congregational education program must give attention to:

A philosophical foundation that answers the questions:

The supervision of agents:

The administration of the program:

Pastors and church program leaders who want to provide an effective educational program that helps persons grow in faith must function as “real” educators. They must understand and practice the educational processes that make for an authentic educational enterprise and not merely a “pretend school” approach of “Set it and forget it!”

Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning at the Columbia Theological Seminary. Formerly, he was Dean at the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. He is the author of the bestseller, The Hidden Lives of Congregations (Alban), Perspectives on Congregational Leadership (Educational Consultants), and A Family Genogram Workbook (Educational Consultants), with Elaine Boomer and Don Reagan.

His books on Christian education include The Craft of Christian Teaching (Judson), How to be the Best Christian Study Group Leader (Judson), Planning for Christian Education Formation (Chalice), and A Christian Educator’s Book of Lists (S&H).

Galindo contributes to the Wabash Center’s blog for theological school deans and to the Digital Flipchart blog.

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